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Review: VERONICA MARS

Not so much a feature film as an extended network-ready TV special (a few cuss words notwithstanding), Rob Thomas’ Veronica Mars, based on his defunct 2004 TV series, can’t seem to lift itself from its own low budget, low-concept doldrums, despite some occasionally good character work, fits of humor, and a lot of flip, snappy dialogue. I should perhaps admit that I did not watch the show on which this film is based, and I was, by extension, not one of the 91,000+ financial contributors to the film’s now-famous Kickstarter campaign. The television series evidently had a passionate enough cult following that Veronica Mars was funded largely by the fans themselves.

And as fan service, Veronica Mars seems to be specifically geared. There are over a dozen characters in this film, all of whom seem to serve some sort of important dramatic function in Veronica’s life, but this movie doesn’t do much by way of actual introduction. I can tell there are a lot of in-jokes, but I didn’t get any of them. It might be significant to long-time fans that Veronica (Kristen Bell) begins having a flirtatious relationship with a dull-as-toast high school sweetheart of sorts (Jason Dohring), but it means nothing to me, since Logan Echolls (yes, that is his name) is such a boring and underdeveloped character (at least in this film). But then, the film wasn’t made for me. It was made for the aforementioned 91,000. And I suppose they got what they paid for: a movie version of their favorite TV show.

Veronica Mars Logan

What I got, however, was a largely shoddy feature film that still feels beholden to the small screen. Veronica Mars is stirringly un-cinematic. The lightweight, flat filming, dull photography, and largely bad lighting don’t just belie a low budget (indeed, I’m fine with low-budget films), but reveals a perhaps-too-strong affection for the television aesthetic. Even the pacing feels TV-ready, complete with several dramatic moments that feel like orchestrated station breaks.

Even the story doesn’t feel like a be-all of any TV series, opting instead to get up to what feels like pretty usual shenanigans. Veronica is a one-time teen sleuth who once lived with her doting PI dad (Enrico Colantoni) and harbors a still-active set of spying and lock-picking skills. Veronica hails from the ultra-corrupt fictional California town of Neptune, but she is now trying to put her past behind her by getting a job in New York with her fiancee Stosh “Pizz” Piznarski (Chris Lowell). Yes, the guy’s name is Pizz, and – perhaps because part of me is still 7 years old – I snickered every time someone said it. Veronica is called back home when one of her old high school classmates is murdered, and her old flame (Dohring) requires her investigating. The investigation that follows involves a peer pop star, a celebrity wannabe (Gaby Hoffmann), a biker gang, a high school reunion, a sex tape, bugged computers, a slimy paparazzo (Ken Marino), corrupt cops (represented by Jerry O’Connell), and – oddest of them all – a cameo from James Franco playing himself. Also, Ira Glass makes an appearance.

There is no sense of pacing or importance in these proceedings. We do see that Veronica is a bit of an addict when it comes to cracking cases, but there doesn’t seem to be much at stake. She seems perfectly at ease being a detective in her home town, working with her father, and doing what she does best. But this doesn’t feel like the case of her life, or even a particularly important one. I suppose, though, that is the M.O. of any TV show: At the end of the episode, things have to be back to normal.

Veronica Mars friends

The film’s one major saving grace is its ear for dialogue. Its quick wit, flip sarcasm, and characters’ wry self-awareness keep the tone light and even jaunty at times. There is a definite comedic energy hanging in the air, and Bell delivers her snappy one-liners with a good deal of comfort and sparkle. She seems totally at ease with this character, especially in the scenes she has with Colantoni; I kind of wish there had been more interaction between father and daughter. It’s the dialogue that keeps Veronica Mars on this side of watchable.

But overall, Veronica Mars feels like a pilot, all setup without an intriguing enough mystery or proper emotional payoff. For being a proud return of a beloved cult TV show, Veronica Mars is disappointingly inert. If you’re a fan of the show, well, you probably already paid for this thing. For those of you who, like me, are not familiar with Veronica Mars, you probably won’t be won over by the film.

Rating: 3 Burritos
3 burritos

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25 comments

  • The current iTunes top 25 TV shows suggests that many, many people watched the movie and are now paying to watch the TV show (all 3 seasons are in the top 25, Season 1 is #1.)

    Brilliant outcome!

  • Again, criticism-critic critics… It’s not friggin’ about the fact that it’s being reviewed by a non-fan. It’s simply about the fact that it’s being reviewed by a non-fan HERE, specifically. Nerdist isn’t just another review site; it’s all about fandom.

    And, accordingly, they’ve promised a review from an actual fan tomorrow. This was just an editorial oversight. Having seen the movie, it was definitely a terrible spot to get on board, and this review probably should have been spotted and shelved at that point. No big deal, just sayin’.

    And, additionally, Gregg is probably the kind of guy who likes terrible shows on the sci-fi channel just because they’re sci-fi, and wouldn’t be able to identify good writing in a genre outside that if it bit him on the sack. Also, he sure knows a lot about the show for somebody so homophobically afraid of it…

  • I was a huge fan of the TV show and watched the flick last night. I liked the movie, but I didn’t think the mystery itself was all that interesting. Sometimes in the show the mystery is kind of disposable because there’s usually a season arc to solve that holds a greater importance and sometimes her smaller cases (or episodes) intersect. But this was like a reunion film, but I was a-okay with that because all that shit was fun. For someone coming in cold, I think it might be a little hard to appreciate some of the more peripheral characters like Weevel and Dick who aren’t essential to anything but thickening the collection of charismatic characters.

    But I’ve never been a fan of Logan or Pizz for that matter. So, that was another hard thing to stomach. There’s more I can get into about it, but that would spoil the shit out of it.

  • I agree with all the fans of Veronica Mars that a review by a non-drooling fan type person is a total waste of time. From here on only Star Trek fans can review Star Trek movies and only Star Wars fans can review Star Wars movies because thats going to be super fair and balanced ! This should also work in the realm of politics so that President Obama’s policies can only be reviewed by people that agree with everything he says and does !! Utopia !!

  • Yeah in response to Gregg, It was just an interesting witty show. I’m not in the show’s age demo now but who is? It first aired a decade ago and i was in my mid 20′s when i began watching. I’m now a 35 yr old father of 3 and still look back at the show with fondness. Even back then I gravitated to the relationship of VM and her father which was just beautifully portrayed by both actors. So hurling homophobic slurs and lumping the show in with things a decade later doesnt make much sense to me but to each their own i guess. I will say as a father to two young daughters I’m looking forward to showing them the show when they are old enough for the subject matter brcause the character of Veronica Mars serves as a nice role model for young girls and even boys for that matter.

  • (seriously, the show is a massively-satisfying, scathing subversion of the teen drama genre it appears to be associated with, and it tackles petty highschool class divides with vengeful aplomb!)

  • The question isn’t one of whether it’s useful to have a review from a non-fan, but HOW this review was structured.

    - First off, yes, it’s good to establish that this isn’t a good point to jump into the show. The first couple episodes of the series are a better place to start (duh). However, that’s a single note of information.

    - A review of a crowdfunded film written by a non-fan should be specifically built around that fact, and IMO, this review was not. It started off with the critical summary, THEN hit you with “I’m a non-fan” in the second sentence, which only renders the initial summary inflammatory to fans and irrelevant to non-fans. Just saying, it would have made more sense to say it right up front, perhaps with a title like “Veronica Mars: An Outside Perspective” and say, “If you’re like me, here’s what you’re going to get.”

    I only say that because there’s a lot of bias against this show and people don’t know what it is (or that it’s by the creator of Party Down); I know I was pretty self-conscious when I first started watching it, but then I was blown away by what a great detective show it is. I don’t want other people to hesitate to watch it for the same reasons I did, because it’s a truly rewarding series.

  • Thank you so much for this review. I have watched maybe a half dozen episodes of this show, but my girlfriend is a huge fan (she paid for the kickstarter) and we are going to see it tonight. I have a vague understanding of the premise and characters from her and her girlfriends gushing over it after a couple of drinks at taco night, but I expect most of it to be over my head.

    Contrary to what most of these fangirl/boy posters have commented, I believe it is highly valuable to see a review of a film like this from someone who is not familiar with the source material. I look forward to a similar review of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. I was familiar with the old Vance Astro version But I know nothing about the modern version.

    Again, thanks. This was the perfect review for someone like me.

  • My questions are as follows: If the Veronica Mars movie sounds like a thing you’d be into, even though you’ve never seen the show, then why in the hell wouldn’t you go check out the show first — especially knowing, as everyone does by now, the backstory of how the film came about and the fact that it’s largely in service to existing fans? And if the show *doesn’t* appeal to you, why would you watch the movie at all?

    It’s like someone who has never heard of tennis reviewing a tennis video game. Or a non-board game player reviewing a semi-obscure board game.

    Sorry, but this review is not only worthless, coming as it does by someone who could care less about the Veronica Mars franchise, but it actually goes against the spirit of Nerdist.com by actually doing a disservice to the specific nerd culture of VM. The same would be true if someone who had never seen Firefly were tapped to review Serenity. There HAS to be someone at an organization called Nerdist.com who is into Firefly, just like there HAS to be someone there who is a more appropriate candidate to review Veronica Mars.

  • You know what also seems like a total waste of time? Reading a review that clearly states in the title and description that it is reviewed by a non-fan of the show. If you could care less about the opinion of a non-Marshmellow then why read the review at all? My guess is you probably knew he wasn’t gonna get it before you read it, and you probably knew it would just piss you off that he was never going to understand. Just like I can’t understand how the series ever had any straight male fans. If Matlock. Save By The Bell, and Days of Our Lives had a baby it would be Veronica Mars. And V.M. fans should stick to what they do best, stress about what love triangle Veronica is evolved in and pray she gets back with bad boy Logan. All the while losing sleep over the end of Braking Dawn part 2 and if the third Hunger Games movie will be just as good as the other two! For God’s sakes man, someone didn’t like your soap’s! Get up, get over it, and move on!

  • Im a fan of the show.
    I paid for the movie and I got the movie I wanted.
    Will it appeal to non fans? Maybe not. But it wasn’t really made for them.
    It`s a love letter to the character and the people that supported the show. And as such I am more than happy with it.

  • I’ve never watched Veronica Mars. Not out of dislike or disinterest. I just don’t watch much TV and never found the time to give it a look (I’ve got a hard enough time committing to series I KNOW I enjoy.) That said, I legitimately appreciate this review. It’s a movie made for fans, yes, but the uninitiated among us might see it as a jumping-off point, because it gives a view of what the show is about. Think of it as being perceived as a second pilot of sorts.

    This review tells me that this is not the case and that if I were to see it, I would most certainly not be getting the most rewarding experience possible.

  • The people who will want to see this film probably dont want to see them waste 30 min of it trying to catch new viewers up. People who pay to see this or paid to fund it probably want them to just jump right in. As far as the lighting goes and the reviewers complaint about it. I’m guessing they used that same stained glass window look the show had. I haven’t seen the movie yet so you can correct me if I’m wrong. That visual aesthetic was a big part of the show and they even referenced it on the special features on one of the season DVD box sets.

  • @Rob, I don’t think that’s true.

    The more time spent making it accessible, the less in-depth it goes for its fans. Like the other person said, it SHOULD be for the hardcore fans who funded it. That really can’t be argued, seeing as I don’t think any of us as fans have any problem with you skipping it, or would place any real value on your opinion as a non-fan…

  • Yeah, at this point in time, on this website, there should definitely be a different approach to reviewing films that are tied in tightly to franchises. When 99% of the movie is self-acknowledged fanservice, there’s a completely different set of criteria; not everything can be Serenity.

    Just some (hopefully) constructive editorial feedback…

  • A movie should be able to stand on it’s own without having a need to watch an entire TV series. If you watch an “X-Files” or “Star Trek” film you don’t need to know the entire history of the show to understand what is going on.

    If I need to know “all the in-jokes” of a TV show, I’ll probably skip this film.

  • I saw the movie with never seeing the show and it was watchable, but clearly a fan film. I accepted there was a lot I was missing, but truth is, the film itself didn’t inspire me to go back and watch the show to catch up.

    So, clearly made just for the fans and not for newbs, but not surprising since the show is over.

    It was paid for by the fans, so it should be for them.

  • Eh. I can totally see how somebody not familiar with the show would not be won over by this movie. It was made by the fans, for the fans. I saw it last night, and will admit that it was everything I had been hoping it would be, and more. I also think it should be pointed out that there are three books coming out (the first in the next 2 weeks) that continue the story. They take place in Neptune, after the movie, and Rob Thomas has said that they will be a part of the cannon – any future movies / shows will acknowledge their existence. This movie was not designed to be the end all, be all. It was a return of a beloved character, a welcome back, a homecoming. I agree with you, it was more of a pilot than a finale, and that is what the fans wanted it to be.

  • Having somebody review this movie who isn’t familiar with the show or each character’s backstory seems like an utter waste of time. Of course you won’t get the jokes and references which btw tended to fuel the show in the past as much as the seasonal who dunnit plot devices did. It would be like watching a series finale of a show you never saw and complaining because you didn’t understand what was happening. Nerdist should just stick to what they do… Podcasts with comedians nobody really cares about.